Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness

Courtesy Google Images

Yesterday, I went for my three month psychiatrist visit. I have to really psych myself up (so to speak) to make that drive into West Virginia for my 15-20 minute med check. The only saving grace is that I love my psychiatrist. He is a wonderful doctor and so worth the drive. I also find his medical students to be interested in what I am going through. They want to talk about what bipolar disorder is and how it affects my behavior. And how I got to be as functional as I am today.

Make no mistake. I will always have bipolar disorder. It is not something that is curable at this time. But, with treatment, it is manageable. My bipolar is currently "managed" and if you had just met me, you would have no idea that I suffer from either bipolar disorder or panic disorder. Unfortunately, my anxiety does come out in certain situations, like under the pressure of working for uptight people, and that is why I no longer work for uptight people. It's a much saner and easier thing for me to work on my writing career and not have to worry about whether I remembered to change the toner cartridge or pushed the lock on the filing cabinet in too far. Or whether I didn't answer the phone in exactly the way I was told to answer it. What I find interesting that is if you look hard enough, pretty much everyone you meet has some sort of mental "issue." It's just that not everyone is willing to be open and honest about it.

I admit to the fact that visiting the psychiatrist is much more traumatic for me than visiting the therapist. I have a fantastic relationship with my therapist and she has helped me immensely to deal with things I never thought I would be able to handle talking about. But needing to see a psychiatrist for medication is something that I am still ashamed of and that really, really bothers me.

When my husband goes to his primary care doctor for diabetes medication or to his pulmonary doctor to check his lung function, there is no stigma attached to that. And just like diabetes and asthma, bipolar disorder is a disease. It is nothing to be ashamed of and yet, here I am taking a full day to recover from my three month psychiatrist med check.

I started this blog because I lost my job last October. I was angry, bitter, and hurt. Over time, I realized that yes, the reason I lost the job was because of my mental illness. It is simply not possible for me to work at a regular job without becoming extremely anxious. But I also realized that this shame about who and what I am needs to stop. I was working for psychologists and was too afraid to tell them that I am bipolar. What does that say about how far we have come in getting rid of the mental illness stigma?

I had a conversation with my oldest son about an hour ago and I asked him if he would be upset if he read about the horrible things that I did when I was manic. He said no, because bipolar disorder is a disease that causes you to behave in ways you wouldn't normally behave. I am happy that my children are understanding that just because a disease causes strange behavior, that does not make it any less a disease.

I hope that through my writing about my own disorder, I can not only show people what bipolar does to you, but also how far I have come in fighting this disease. Have I had to make accommodations for it? Sure. But I also have to make accommodations for my fibromyalgia and there is absolutely no shame attached to that. I don't understand the difference.

There are still people who refuse to admit that they have mental disorders and say that they don't need or want help. It's valid that sometimes a person with a mental disorder will probably not get the help that they need until they are either forced to because they have made a suicide attempt or because they have been arrested and held for psychiatric evaluation. And the most important part of getting better with any mental illness is admitting there is a problem and asking for help. It took me a long time to admit that the problem was me and not everyone around me. But once I got there, I started working on it and trying to change my behavior. If it had not been for medication and therapy, I would never have lived to talk about this thing that is wrong with my brain.

Mental illness has no cure. But it is manageable with treatment. If we continue to hide the illness behind a curtain of shame, how will we ever find a cure? Or even be willing to treat it properly?

I actually feel sorry for those people that I worked with, because even though they were psychologists, they could not see the good work that I had done for them and that I could have continued to do. Wouldn't the right thing for them to do be to ask me what was going on and whether I needed help? I remember many conversations with my boss about the things I was doing that he didn't like. And yes, on one occasion, he asked me what was going on. I was too afraid to tell him that I have a disease that affects my brain.

I was too afraid to tell a psychologist that I have bipolar disorder. What is wrong with this statement?




  1. HI Chelle,

    How brave of you to put this post up. It really resonated with me. Just like you I have experienced extreme anxiety and stress in normal working conditions. It's one of the reasons I pushed so hard to become self employed with my own business.

    Anyways, just wanted to say keep getting through it Sista! You can achieve anything and even change your entire mental state. have you checked out Bernice at Living the Balanced Life? She had a nervous breakdown and quit her job. She now blogs about how people can de-stress their lives. Something about her story and yours made it seem like you might enjoy her blog.

    Take care!

  2. It is ironic, both of your illnesses, bipolar and fibro, are ones that people are suspicious of, afraid of psychiatric and disbelieveing of chornic pain.
    Both are fights that you should not be having to endure. Thats great that your son is so knowledgable ad accepting that he realizes it is an illness.
    Great post Chelle. Thank you for having the courage to share it.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Tanja.

    I continue to experience the shame of having a mental illness on an almost daily basis. It is still something that I have to fight to realize is an illness and not a choice. Even though I have made great progress, as with any other chronic illness, it never completely goes away. I wish that people were more understanding of the fact that it is a disease and wouldn't be so uncomfortable around me once they know I am bipolar. I'm still just a person like them and now I'm a person who is fighting to end the shame associated with it.

    I will check out Bernice's blog. Thanks so much for the recommendation.


  4. Carol,

    I can't tell you how glad I am that you posted a comment. I have been following your story and tried to leave you a comment yesterday and it disappeared! I just wanted to let you know that I downloaded your book to my kindle yesterday. I hope that you will at least gain some financial security through your writing, which is excellent. I am so horrified by everything that you have been through and I hope that you are able to find a way to get rid of the pain you experience 100%.

    Both of my illnesses are indeed viewed with suspicion. I saw a comment yesterday by someone who said that fibromyalgia is actually viewed by the medical profession as "fibromyasshurts." I do not believe this is true, as I have a wonderful team of doctors treating me, but it just goes to show that stigma is still there not only for mental disorders, but also for fibro. It's so sad, because fibro is so real and so debilitating. As bipolar can be if you don't treat it properly.

    Thank you so much for reading. :o)



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